Bankruptcy Could Disrupt American Airlines' Rebranding

FutureBrand Was Due to Brief Carrier's Agencies on Project's Progress

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American Airlines says its bankruptcy is intended to help the company become stronger in the long term, but in the short term it might delay a much-needed rebranding exercise.

The company is in the final stages of working with Interpublic Group of Cos.' FutureBrand to revamp the airline's image, Ad Age has learned. FutureBrand was about to brief the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline and its roster of agencies on the status of the project, according to an executive familiar with the situation, but that will likely be put on hold. The exec said that though the bankruptcy announcement had been rumored, it was a surprise that it came close to the year-end holidays, when travelers will be concerned about their trips' being disrupted.

Credit: Bloomberg
FutureBrand executives declined to comment for this story, and American did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

American has had more slogans in its 80-year history than most companies. Here's a selection of some of the most popular ones.
  • "Be Yourself. Nonstop." (current)
  • "We Know Why You Fly."
  • "We are an airline that is proud to bear the name American."
  • "Something Special in the Air."
  • "The On-Time Machine."
  • "Fly the American Way."

For the time being, there is likely to be little new activity for any of American's agencies except for public relations agency of record Weber Shandwick, which could get involved in crisis management and reassuring the customer base that their flights and frequent-flier miles are safe. Based on comments on American's Facebook page -- where it has posted information about the Chapter 11 announcement, including a video message from Tom Horton, chairman, president and CEO of AMR Corp. -- consumers are concerned about how the bankruptcy will affect their frequent-flier accounts. (American was emailing customers after the announcement Tuesday, stressing that their miles will remain intact).

One chief concern for agencies: making sure that they are paid on time and not left on the hook for fees.

This is more unwelcome news for American's creative agency, Interpublic Group's McCann, coming on top of the loss of Exxon and Applebee's and while the shop is defending other accounts, including Avis Budget and Lufthansa. McCann recently launched a humorous ad campaign out of London for American featuring actor Kevin Spacey as a spokesman.

In the U.S. Hispanic market, American has worked for many years with Miami-based Zubi Advertising, a leading independent Hispanic shop. The agency's latest effort for the carrier is, a Spanish-language site launched in September. Further efforts aren't scheduled until after the holidays, when consumers will be invited to share their holiday travel experiences. The airline also works with Publicis Groupe -backed Burrell for African-American advertising.

If the trip through bankruptcy court is similar to that of General Motors, allowing the carrier to shed costs and debt, American could emerge ready for its rebrand. That would probably help it catch up to its competitors. American has been struggling to compete with two behemoths, Delta-Northwest and United-Continental. Their agencies -- Wieden & Kennedy and McGarryBowen, respectively -- have been working on repositioning the airlines' marketing efforts.

It has been a tough decade for American, which lost two aircraft on Sept. 11. It has since been battered by the recession, and has imposed extra fees and furloughed staff. To increase the number or routes available to customers, the carrier has tried to strike partnerships with various players, including JetBlue domestically and Quantas abroad.

Contributing: Alexandra Bruell

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